. . . the art of design

The Reservoir of Goodwill

Don't Make Me ThinkBack in 2000 Steve Krug wrote a revolutionary book exhorting designers to transform the web into a User Friendly experience. This concept was so vital that his book (with a few updates) was republished in 2006. The ideas in this book may seem like axioms at this point, but they revolutionized the way we build the web.  My favorite chapter is on the common courtesies of making a usable website.  Here, Krug explores the all too forgotten element of the user's patience.

In his words it's, "The Reservoir of Goodwill."

I particularly enjoyed Don't Make Me Think because it practices what it preaches.  It is set up with the usability of the the reader in mind.  There are info-graphics, emboldened words, section titles and comics mixed in with the text for people like me who prefer to skim until they find something of great importance.  My favorite section deals with the concept that every website visitor brings a certain amount of goodwill towards your site.  This amount or reservoir begins at varying levels.  It is drained at different rates as well as replenished at different rates.  Some people show up with plenty of goodwill and a lot of patience to boot.  Some people show up with virtually no goodwill and will dump your site if even one thing goes awry.

The trick is to avoid that which diminishes goodwill and capitalize on that which replenishes goodwill.

Things that Diminish Goodwill

Punishing me for not doing things your way:
"I should never have to think about formatting data"

I am reluctant anyway to give you my information.  Don't make me give it to you in a particular way; just take it.  When I give you my phone number or social security number I shouldn't have to worry about spaces or dashes or dots.  I should be able to make a mistake without having to start over.  Don't ever make me feel I need to figure out how to enter in my information.

Putting sizzle in my way:
"Having to wait through a long Flash intro ... makes it clear you don't understand--or care--that I'm in a hurry."

I've said it before, and I'll say it again.  Flash, intro pages or an exorbitant amount of pictures does far more harm than good to your site.  It is painful to have to wait for a site to load when all you want is information.  There are times when I am more likely to avoid going to a website at all for fear of wasting my time.  The odds are that Google can answer my question anyway.

Your site looks amateurish:
"You can lose goodwill if your site looks sloppy, disorganized or unprofessional ..."

Well, of course this one made it into my top three!  If it's important than it's worth having a professional do it.  It is about much more than colors and aesthetics.  It's about how your site works, how it's organized, laid out, categorized, archived and explained.  It's about whether or not someone shows up for the first time and feels out of place and lost or feels welcomed and at home.

Things that Increase Goodwill

Know the main things that people want to do on your site and make them obvious and easy.
"It's usually not hard to figure out what people want to do on a given Web site."

Once you've got a good idea of what people want to do and what they want to see give it to them.  Put it in their hands and make it intuitive.  There are often times when instructions are necessary, but those times should be limited to secondary and tertiary tasks.

Know what questions I'm likely to have, and answer them.
"FAQs are enormously valuable, especially if they really are frequently asked."

Don't try to turn FAQs into marketing pitches.  Actually answer the questions that your potential clients tend to ask.  Don't write them the first day of your site and forget about them.  Update it as often as your business grows and develops (hopefully a lot).  Don't be vague.  People want answers to their questions.

Provide me with creature comforts like Print-friendly pages.
"People love being able to print stories ..."

This one made me kind of laugh.  I always laugh a little when people print out an e-mail or website.  Don't get me wrong; I most often provide the capability to print an article at the touch of a button.  While I'm at it, though, I also provide the capability to download, e-mail, facebook, tweet or google+ an article too.